Do indie bookstores really have that much to fear from digital disruption?
March 26, 2014 | 6:25 pm
Publishing savant and veteran book world journalist Jane Friedman has just shared “5 Valuable Charts That Show How Publishing Is Changing” from her personal Pinterest board, which she uses “for speaking at conferences and providing insight into how the industry is changing.” All of them are fascinating, and well worth perusing. But I’d like to concentrate on just one, and on just one finding from it.
That chart, reproduced here, is Bowker’s Books & Consumers US’s chart of the “Retailer share of books bought by US consumers, Jan 2010-Nov 2012. And it shows some of the patterns that you’d expect. For instance, sales attributed to ecommerce are bearing down on the other categories, from 25.1 percent in 2010 to 43.8 percent in 2012, crushing the “Large Chains” category in particular like a piston. The Barnes & Nobles of America and their ilk are squeezed from 31.5 percent of sales over that same period to 18.7 percent. Book clubs also don’t fare well, although at least they rebound slightly from 2011′s 5.5 percent to 6.1 percent, still well down on 2010′s 11.5 percent.
But the other categories of retailer don’t show much decline at all. Almost all the sales picked up by digital platforms seem to be coming at the expense of large bookstore chains alone. And in particular, independent bookstores rise from 2.4 percent of sales in 2010 to 3.7 percent.
Now needless to say, that’s only one data point off one chart – although Bowker is tolerably authoritative in this area. And the collapse of Borders in the course of this period might well have hit the chains hard enough to create an anomaly. And Friedman doesn’t pick up on this item herself in her list of key takeaways.
Nonetheless, I’d really like to know if anyone has recorded a similar trend. Could it be that, for whatever reason, the indie bookstore sector is not doing so badly at all, while market changes impact mostly the bigger chains? That certainly supports the arguments by some that the biggest menace facing indie booksellers – at least in the UK – is not Amazon, but the politicians who are setting new business rates.